Vampires and werewolves are cool. Just admit it. You like them. I like them. Everybody likes them. Creatures of the night. Icons of the horror genre. Fangs. Odd eating habits. How can somebody possibly not enjoy either a vampire or werewolf movie? Hell, even Jack Nicholson starred as a werewolf. Since we are all in agreement that we love fanged bloodsuckers and furry fanged folk, wouldn't it be sweet if there would be more movies involving these two cursed critters? What if said movies placed the creatures in question in a war? Wouldn't that be sweet? Okay, perhaps I only think so, but the "Underworld" franchise has peaked my interest every since I first saw the teaser trailer for the first movie. Do you know what makes a film series that involves a war between lycanthropes and nosferatu even cooler? Kate Beckinsale.
Alright, so maybe "Underworld" and "Underworld: Evolution" aren't exactly the end-all films I try to make them out to be in the first paragraph. The concept is great, but we've all seen great concepts flushed down the proverbial toilet. "Alien Vs. Predator" certainly comes to mind there. "Underworld" is a good idea for a film series. It covers the horror genre and the action genre. The film is heavily inspired by comic books and other commonplace of horror fiction. The excellent White Wolf series of games though enough about the first film to file a lawsuit claiming that "Underworld" was copyright infringement. For anybody clapping their hands and cheering in agreement of my opening paragraph will agree, "Underworld" is a great entry in the vampire and werewolf sub-genres. The big question still remains – Is "Underworld: Evolution" a good sequel and a good film for the mass market. And since this is an early Blu-Ray title, is "Underworld: Evolution" a good purchase for Sony's new technology?
In a word, "Underworld: Evolution" can be called ‘Entertainment.' The movie is a visual treat and full of action and has lots of vampires and werewolves. It is a good movie to break out the air-popped popcorn machine and sit back and enjoy. As long as minor plot holes and a bit of cheese doesn't affect your enjoyment of your popcorn and your movies, "Underworld: Evolution" will entertain you. It is not intended to frighten you or necessarily gross you out. It was also not meant to be the kind of film that is built for award season. Aside from an "MTV Movie Awards" nomination, it was barely noticed. Nope. You are not going to sit back and comment on the wonderfully engaging drama and stupendous performances. You are going to be able to sit back, cheer and enjoy yourself.
The story of "Underworld: Evolution" finds our lovely werewolf slayer Selene in hiding with the half werewolf, half vampire Michael (Scott Speedman) that she saved in the first film. She is on the run for their protection and her strong feelings from him have bound her to his safety. Unfortunately, they fall under the vengeful eye of the vampire Marcus Corvinus (Tony Curran) who is looking to awaken his werewolf brother William (Brian Steele). They are also being followed by the powerful vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy). They must stop Marcus before he frees his brother and all hell breaks loose. The adventure the two partake uncovers the history and the secrets of both the vampire and the werewolf bloodlines.
One of the strong points of "Underworld: Evolution" are its wonderfully dark and gothic look. I swear that most the film was some shade of blue, black or dark green in hue. The film had an expensive and polished look to it. The sets are good and even though "Underworld: Evolution" isn't exactly "Bram Stoker's Dracula," it is a visually impressive film. Yes, the costume design of Viktor looks like wet rubber at times (Do you think Bill Nighy likes wet rubber? He looked great in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."), the dark, seedy and violent world in which "Underworld: Evolution" takes place looks wonderful.
Another strong point is Kate Beckinsale. If you put Carrie-Anne Moss right beside Kate and have them dress up in their cute little leather outfits. My pick is Kate. She looks incredible. But, Ms. Beckinsale is much more than a tight body and a pretty face. She is able to bring validation to the character as a solid female hero. Not since Sigourney Weaver slaughtered a few misunderstood aliens has anybody really played a badass heroine. She looks very comfortable with firearms and fists. I'd have to say that I would not want to be on her character's bad side. Kate's character Selene is all about business and meeting the end goal. No wisecracks. No chewing gum. No bull. She looks good and she plays a wonderful part in the film.
The weakness of the film is its general lack of humor. Films that toss aside substance for entertainment typically try to tickle the funny bone or inject a bit of humor. Kate keeps a stoic face and doesn't have time for a witty one-liner. Yes, it is a horror-action film, but one or two jokes wouldn't hurt. At the least it would perhaps place the viewer in a false sense of comfort. Aside from Selene asking a near victim "Mind if I drive?," I cannot remember anything else funny in the movie. I still had a good time, but even the simply awesome "Aliens" had time for a joke or two. "Underworld: Evolution" takes itself too seriously at times and I feel that is the only real knock I have against this entertaining picture.
The film is, of course, a sequel. I thoroughly enjoyed the first "Underworld." If you dig around this site, you can see I scored it an ‘8' for Film value. I felt it was a great entry that wasn't quite up to par with the first "Blade," but far better than that film's sequels. Well, "Underworld: Evolution" rises above the sequels for "Blade" and sits nicely as its own picture. "Underworld: Evolution" is a better ride if you have seen the first picture, but it is still quite entertaining if it is your first voyage with Kate on the journey to eradicate werewolves. I can't see the series continue much further after this picture, as I feel these vampires may get a bit long in the tooth. There are rumors of a third film as a prequel. There are rumors that Kate won't be in a third film if it were given the greenlight. Let us hope they stay rumors and the series won't go down the horrid path that poor Blade was sent on. Of course, it gets worse for "Blade." He has to become a TV-Series.
Thus far in its early life, Blu-Ray has been anything but visually stellar. It has been inconsistent and marred with flaws. For all of its darkness, "Underworld: Evolution" is one of the best of the early titles. It is very likely the best of the launch day titles. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer features a consistently hi-resolution image and no apparent flaws except for the infamous ‘blackouts' that Sony's initial offerings have suffered from. There are still a couple of scenes where the image is not as sharp as others, but for a large majority of the picture, the detail is astounding. Textures come alive. Floors, walls, leather, Kate's skin and lycan fur all look incredibly vivid and sharp. I almost want to try and touch it, they look that good.
The problem with "Underworld: Evolution" is that the film is just so darn dark. Ninety percent of the film takes place in darkly lit interiors, moonlit exteriors and the shadows. Vampires can't exactly take a sunny walk down the street, so their allergic reaction to the solar ball of fire that we enjoy translates to a visual curse for us. We have to enjoy them in the dark. Fortunately, shadow detail is very good in the film and black levels are quite good. Once or twice the film seemed slightly washed out, but even on my LCD HDTV, I could nicely make out all fine details and see perfectly clear in the dark. Turn off the lights while watching "Underworld: Evolution" and it is a visual treat.
Two words: Uncompressed PCM. Blu-Ray is not currently taking the path of either Dolby TrueHD audio or Dolby Digital Plus, but the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 multi-channel surround mixes make me go giddy. "House of Flying Daggers" still amazes me with its sound and "Underworld: Evolution" is not that far behind. It sounds simply great. From the sound of the vampires teeth puncturing skin (think melon) to heavy breathing in the shadows, you can hear an amazing level of detail. The rain, a dog barking and the loud gunfire are all spectacular.
There are a lot of ambient sound effects, environmental effects and the six analog channels fully fill my viewing space with pleasant and aggressive sound as the bass thumps along. It really is quite an entertaining aural symphony. The relaxed musical score by Marco Beltrami is drowned out by sound effects and dialogue through much of the film and that is perhaps the only flaw of the soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and keeps at a volume loud enough to understand what is being said, even through the most aggressive moments. The soundtrack is loud. It is full of life and it helps make this entertaining picture even more entertaining.
From taking a cursory glance at the standard definition release of "Underworld: Evolution," it would appear that all of the supplements have made the journey to the Blu-Ray disc. This is quite notable considering this disc has almost as many supplements as the other dozen titles combined. Out of my ten titles, this is the only one with any real value-added material. HD-DVD has been doing a great job of providing the supplements from the best releases of SD-DVD and I remember seeing this title initially and falsely assuming Blu-Ray would do the same. At this time, the title is a rarity for its supplements, and with a running time of 106 minutes, I'm still not sure of why we couldn't have a couple supplements on our other Blu-Ray discs.
If you can pry yourself away from the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix, there is a nice Director and Filmmakers' Commentary track. Featuring director Len Wiseman and a handful of others, the commentary is insightful and full of information. The stunt coordinator makes an appearance here and you get some good information on how the stunts were performed. The men talk throughout the entire soundtrack. There is hardly any deadspace and they are informative. I won't say this is one of the best commentary tracks I have heard, but it is a good one. It is certainly the best one currently available on Blu-Ray.
But wait. There is more! Running shy of an hour total, the six featurettes contained on the disc give a detailed look at all aspects of making the film. The Hybrid Theory – Visual Effects Featurette is exactly what it's title suggests, a look at the special effects of this great looking film. The War Rages On – Stunts Featurette takes a look at – you guessed it – the stunts. In this supplement, you can get an idea of the wirework that held Kate. Bloodlines: From Script to Screen – Making-Of Featurette discusses the development of the script and how it was molded into the final product. Making Monsters Roar – Creature Featurette looks at the vampires and werewolves that we established we all love. Building a Saga – Production Design Featurette delves in the oft uncovered world of what all goes into piecing these films together. Finally, Music and Mayhem – Music and Sound Design Featurette takes a look at the great sound effects and the musical score that often takes a backseat. These features are nice detailed looks at the making of the film and don't stray far from the formulaic talking heads methodology, but their inclusion on this Blu-Ray disc is very welcome and very nice.
I almost forgot, there is also the Music Video "Her Potrait in Black" by Atreyu. I didn't remember hearing the song in the film and couldn't sing a bar of it for you now, but it was all about Kate and we've already established that I think Kate is a good thing to see. Didn't want to forget the music video. Every supplement counts, especially for a format that is starved of them.
"Underworld: Evolution" is a fun film. It strives to entertain and it succeeds. The film is best played with the sound cranked up and with the lights out. The film is an audio visual assault of the senses and it makes for good home theater viewing on the fledging Blu-Ray format. What is even more special about this Blu-Ray disc is the fact that there are real supplements. These have been missing from almost every other release, but "Underworld: Evolution" is actually decent package. One of the best looking releases and a great sounding one, "Underworld: Evolution" is likely the best overall Blu-Ray release yet.
So yes, maybe not everybody likes vampires and werewolves and gets excited about films where the two mythical species are locked in a centuries old conflict. There are plenty of people out there who will disagree with me and say this is a bad movie with a horrific plot and that Kate isn't even cute. Well, my opinion is "Underworld: Evolution" is a good time. You don't find too many good horror-action films these days as the good ole ‘slasher' films and gorefests are dominating the screams and frights. "Underworld: Evolution" is a far better film than recent competitors like "Van Helsing." So to answer my big question – yes, the film is a decent sequel and one of the better Blu-Rays currently on market.